Windows on the world


Holy Effrontery


The Jesuits had a name for it ~ 'Holy Effrontery':  those individuals (or organisations) so convinced of their own beliefs they cannot conceive that other sane and rational people could think any differently.  Some of us get older and wiser, with the growing realisation that the more we know the more there is to know.  Some of us interpret all new phenomena as reaffirmation of what we already know, affronted that anyone should doubt our well-defended position.

The world divides into two halves, with some inevitable omissions and overlapping:  those who believe in Science and those who believe in God.  Holy effrontery can exist in both camps.

World Religions

The modern world, in general, is educated (if at all) along broadly scientific lines.  Argument and theory is built empirically, with extrapolations soundly tested as theorems or working hypotheses.  It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that so many believe in the unproven existence of God.  At a rough count there are 1.9 billion Christians, 1.2 billion Muslims, 800 million Hindus and 360 million Buddhists.  In other words, almost half the world's population belongs to one of the four major religions.  Many more believe in something akin to God, or as Blavatsky put it, "that Nature is not a fortuitous concurrence of atoms".

There are many religious individuals who are not blinkered by dogma.  Any communication to Man from God has to be channelled through a medium less perfect than God, and so religious teachings are at best approximations of divine truths.  There is little to discuss with those who would argue otherwise, and it is those who over-zealously proscribe acceptable behaviour for all who earn religion a bad name.  Nevertheless, scientists who reject all that religion has to offer risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  And scientists are also capable of holy effrontery, or perhaps in their case it is unholy.

God's Changing Mind

Before the impartial reasonable intelligent person decides for himself he should look at the track records of those who purport to represent absolute truth.  Unfortunately, neither side is convincing.  Christianity, the biggest religion, is divided so dramatically that for centuries wars have been waged between rival factions.  And it is not just a simple case of Catholics and Protestants; at the last count there were over 30,000 Christian denominations, suggesting as many interpretations of God's word.  Even if one restricts the search to one general area, it becomes apparent that God has changed his mind quite a few times.  Following changes in society the Church of England eventually changed its opinions on slavery, capital punishment, animal rights, child labour, rights of married women, homosexuality and the ordination of women priests (to name but a few). Perhaps God is merely a dedicated follower of social fashion!

The Shifting Sands of Science

But the track record of Science is no better.  We are capable of performing certain measurements and calculations, although accuracy is governed by the suitability of the devices used, but then interpretation is just as unreliable as it is for the men of God.  The weakest link for all is man's limited intellect and imagination.  The world is presented with scientific facts, but the only 'fact' is that, with regular monotony, those scientific statements are later modified or abandoned to the shifting sands of time.  The scientific model of life and the universe is quite different to the model of a century ago, which was in its own way quite different to that existing a century earlier.  This is as it should be, and simply reflects our growing understanding.  What is surprising is that every scientist seems to believe that this time they've got it right.  And the general public believes it.

Science is not based on a series of proofs; it is based on a series of hypotheses governed by 'laws' of probability.  On a level playing field, therefore, rather than seeking proof that God exists one should apply the same ‘laws’ of probability  when considering mankind and his complex society; the diverse and interdependent world of flora and fauna; the structure of the universe repeated in every molecule; .  There are only two possibilities: all these things occurred by Blavatsky’s (rejected) "fortuitous concurrence of atoms", or with some 'divine' assistance.  Only Science could calculate the long odds of a series of random and unstructured events producing such a structured and complex universe, but any bookie can give you the odds of the unknown filly ridden by God in a two horse race.  On probability alone it would be an unwise man who dismissed the possibility of the existence of God.

A World without Religion

All of which will be of no more than passing interest to the man in the street, but what is important is the consequence of the false eclipse of religion by Science.  Science knows no morals, and can tolerate human experimentation by Nazis in WW2 and the organ and genetic experimentation being conducted in commercial laboratories around the world today.   Ethical views that once might have been expressed by religious leaders are now dependent on the rather dubious sponsorship of politicians and media experts.  Almost every social and medical dilemma is resolved without benefiting from the moderating voice of compassion that comes from a sense of responsibility to humankind within the wider context of a meaningful universe.

At the risk of being hoist by my own petard of holy effrontery I maintain that this world, which we are re-modelling in Man’s image, is as a result an infinitely poorer place.


© Harvey Tordoff
February 2001